Picture of the author

Understanding Murder in Austin, Texas

Murder in Austin means illegally causing another’s death either intentionally or through reckless action that is likely to lead to death. Murders are serious offenses and carry the most severe penalties upon conviction, potentially up to life imprisonment with no parole. There are some situations that may give rise to a murder charge even when the defendant did not intend to cause death, such as death during the commission of a felony and criminally negligent homicide. As such, a murder charge may be brought if a person causes an accident through negligent actions, such as reckless driving. Regardless of the situation, the prosecution would need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the victim’s death was a result of the defendant’s actions.

What is First-Degree Murder in Austin?

First-degree murder in Austin is referred to as capital murder, which is the most serious murder charge in the city.  For the charge to succeed, the prosecution must, first of all, prove that the defendant caused the victim’s death intentionally or through reckless action that is likely to lead to death. In addition, the prosecution must also prove the existence of aggravating factors, including:

  • The victim was a peace officer or fireman acting within lawful duty when the murder occurred, and the defendant knew that the victim was a peace officer or fireman.
  • The defendant was paid or paid someone else to commit the murder.
  • The defendant committed the crime while trying to escape from a penal institution.
  • The defendant is responsible for the death of more than one person during the same criminal transaction or scheme.
  • The defendant is responsible for the death of someone under 15 years old.
  • The defendant murders a person while committing or attempting to commit kidnapping, burglary, robbery, arson, aggravated sexual assault, obstruction or retaliation, or terroristic threat.
  • The defendant murders someone running a penal institution while incarcerated.
  • The defendant commits the offense while serving life imprisonment or a term of 99 years for murder.
  • The defendant commits the crime in retaliation against a person serving in the judiciary.

Capital murder is considered a capital offense in Austin that can attract either a death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. However, only defendants that are 17 years old or older can receive the death penalty. Defendants that are incapacitated due to a mental disability or insanity may also be spared from the death penalty.

What is Second-Degree Murder in Austin?

Second-degree murder in Austin is simply referred to as murder. No second-degree classification is attached in Texas Laws. The offense involves death caused by the defendant’s wrongful actions. The difference between first and second-degree murder in Austin is the presence or absence of an aggravating factor. A charge for second-degree murder in Austin may be brought in any of three situations:

  • The defendant intentionally and knowingly caused the death of another. This includes situations where the defendant intended an outcome in which the victim was dead. One example of such a situation is if one person poisons another to take their life. The former person may be charged with second-degree murder for such poisoning.
  • The defendant intended to cause serious bodily harm and carried out an act dangerous to human life that led to the victim’s death. In this situation, it is not necessary to prove the defendant’s intention to take the victim’s life. Instead, the prosecution only needs to prove that the defendant intended to cause serious bodily harm to the victim through an act that is dangerous to human life. The Texas Penal Code defines serious bodily injury as an injury that creates a substantial risk of death or causes death, serious permanent disfigurement, or impairment of the function of any part of the body. 
  • The defendant caused the victim’s death while committing a felony. It is not necessary for the defendant to successfully commit the felony, and merely attempting the commission of a felony is enough. The felony involved should not be kidnapping, burglary, robbery, and other crimes that may result in a capital murder charge. 

This offense is a first-degree felony in Austin, punishable with imprisonment with a prison term between five and 99 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

What is Third-Degree Murder in Austin?

Austin does not legally recognize third-degree murders. However, in states and cities where it is recognized, it occurs when a person commits murder unintentionally while engaging in dangerous conduct. This offense is similar to the state jail felony of criminally negligent homicide in Austin, which involves committing murder by negligent conduct. Meaning that the accused should have been aware of the likelihood of their actions resulting in substantial bodily harm to the victim.  A conviction for criminally negligent homicide in Austin attracts between 180 days and two years in jail, including a fine of $10,000 or less. 

What is Manslaughter in Austin?

Manslaughter in Austin is a second-degree felony committed by recklessly causing the death of another person. To be considered reckless for the purpose of the charge, the accused must have known that their actions can lead to a certain result but, nonetheless, carried on with it. The major difference between manslaughter and murder in Austin is the intention required for a murder charge. For manslaughter, the accused must only have been reckless and should not have intended to kill the victim. Manslaughter is punishable with imprisonment ranging from two to 20 years, plus a fine of up to $10,000.

What is Vehicular Manslaughter?

Vehicular manslaughter in Austin involves recklessly causing the death of another person while driving a vehicle or vessel. Section 545.401 of the Texas Transportation Code extends the offense to killing another person during participation in a drag race, race, and other types of acceleration contests. This offense is a second-degree felony in Austin with potential punishments of two to 20 years in jail, including a fine of not more than $10,000. In addition to jail terms and fines, the court may also order the suspension of the offender’s driver’s license.  

What is Voluntary Manslaughter?

Texas law does not distinguish between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. However, in other states, voluntary manslaughter generally results from the defendant killing an individual in the heat of passion or during sudden combat. It is a crime that would ordinarily be murder but may be charged as manslaughter due to certain mitigating circumstances such as emotional excitement. It may also apply in cases where the defendant used excessive force during self-defense, defense of property, or defense of another. 

Under Texas law, killing done during the heat of passion is considered a second-degree felony offense which attracts 2 to 20 years in prison, including a fine not exceeding $10,000

What is Involuntary Manslaughter?

Involuntary Manslaughter is the unintentional and unlawful killing of a person through reckless actions. This is not considered a separate charge under Texas law. However, causing the death of a person while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is criminalized under Texas law. The accused must have done so while operating a motor vehicle, boat, or aircraft with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher. This offense is known as intoxication manslaughter and is classified as a second-degree felony. Punishments for the offense include two to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

What Type of Lawyer do I Need for a Murder Charge in Austin?

A Texas criminal defense attorney can be the first contact for any person once they are arrested on murder charges. A murder charge can have dire consequences, with punishments ranging from imprisonment terms to hefty fines and restrictions on the right to possess a firearm. However, a person facing a murder charge can be able to defend such a charge successfully by engaging the services of a qualified criminal defense attorney. Such an attorney has knowledge and experience of Texas criminal law and the best defenses in every situation. Depending on the facts of a case, some possible defenses that an attorney may explore are:

  • Insanity: A defendant can escape liability for murder if they show that they lack the mental capacity to properly understand their actions. The defendant should have been mentally incapacitated at the moment the crime occurred. If this is proven, then the requisite element of intent would not be present. Any person that is able to escape liability for murder through the defense of insanity may need to be committed to a psychiatric institution.
  • Self-defense: People have the right to use force to defend themselves. As long as the force used is proportional to the initial attack, the defense shall fully absolve the defendant of liability. If the force used is not proportional, the murder charge may be reduced to a manslaughter charge. Defendants can also rely on the defense of property and defense of another person.
  • The heat of passion: Where there is a provocation that creates a state of anger, fear or nervous excitement in the defendant, the defendant may use this as the defense. No time should have elapsed between the provocation and the reaction.
  • Intoxication: If the defendant was intoxicated when they committed the offense and did not intend to kill the victim, intoxication may be used as a defense to a murder charge. If the intoxication was involuntary and caused by another person, it can entirely absolve the defendant of criminal liability.